Stella Ryan is a 53-year-old, married mother of four from Doylestown with a perfect Republican voting record.

On Tuesday, she will vote for Barack Obama.

Ryan said she was influenced by her 22-year-old son and switched parties minutes after hearing Obama's speech on race last month.

"That's when I felt, he's genuine," Ryan said.

Jamira Burley is a 19-year-old, African American college freshman from a big family in West Philadelphia. Five of her brothers are backing Obama.

Her vote: Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"A lot of my friends and family say I'm going against my race," Burley said. "But the election now is bigger than that. It's all about policies and issues."

In the Democratic primary, women voters, who are expected to turn out in stronger numbers than men, might prove to be far less predictable than they have been in other races.

Allegiances are shifting, and affiliations based on gender and race are weakening, according to interviews in the last week with more than 40 local women voters.

A significant percentage of women still have not made up their minds. In a poll conducted April 2-7 for the Lifetime cable-television network, only 53 percent of Pennsylvania women voters said they had definitely decided whom they would support.

Lynn Yeakel, a local Democratic leader and nominee for the U.S. Senate in 1992, is undecided. "And that's a very stunning admission for me," she said.

Yeakel, 66, said feminists of her generation had longed for the day when they could vote a woman into the White House. But she said she also recalled being energized as a college student by the 1960 campaign of John F. Kennedy.

"The Obama campaign really reminds me of that in a very dramatic way, and that's a factor," Yeakel said.

Yvonne Marlier, a 62-year-old retired school counselor from Jenkintown, also has surprised herself this election. "If you would have told me 30 years ago that I wasn't going to vote for the first woman presidential candidate, I wouldn't have believed it was true," she said before an Obama event in Mount Airy for undecided women voters.

Marlier said she was a fan of former President Bill Clinton and found "much about Hillary Clinton that is wonderful." But she said the political system was broken and controlled too much by special interests. She said she would vote for Obama because she believed "he doesn't take that kind of money."

With two candidates who are groundbreaking, women are strongly engaged in this election, according to longtime local political players.

"Women are reaching out to everyone they know," said U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D., Pa.), who is campaigning for Clinton. "They're e-mailing people, having house parties, knocking on doors."

In Pennsylvania, Democratic women voters historically turn out in higher numbers than men and are likely to be an even stronger force this election, said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College.

Madonna said he expected about 60 percent of Democratic voters Tuesday would be women - up from the typical 56 or 57 percent.

Madonna said Clinton was likely to win the women's vote in Pennsylvania, garnering support from older women, with younger ones leaning toward Obama.

But he added, "We're in a very fluid environment in our state."

In the latest Quinnipiac University poll, released Tuesday, Clinton held steady with Pennsylvania women with 54 percent of the vote, compared with 40 percent for Obama.

In a poll two months ago, however, Obama had only 34 percent of the women's vote in Pennsylvania.

"It's not that she's losing supporters, but he's picking up strength, especially among white women," said Clay F. Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

As the war in Iraq deepens and the economy worsens, local women voters said they were less concerned with voting along gender lines and more worried about who could best deal with the issues. Primary among them: the war in Iraq, health-care coverage, and the weak economy.

Many women said they found the candidates were more similar than not on issues, leaving their final choices to more subjective assessments of character and leadership.

Many said that if Clinton were running against a white male, they would feel more compelled to support her as the first woman to run for president. But with Obama as her opponent, they said, their votes will be historic either way they go.

"They are both groundbreaking. How do we choose between them?" asked Renee Linton, 21, a Temple University student.

Laura Weinbaum, 37, a Center City married mother of three, is "completely conflicted" on whom to support. She said she "loves" Obama's message, his positive approach to the campaign, and his plans for reducing urban poverty.

But as the mother of two daughters, "I love the idea of a role model who is a woman president," Weinbaum said.

"I may vote to spite all the sexists who think a woman is not strong enough - or too strong - to be president, who talk about how she's 'strident' or has bad ankles, or note that she can't even control her husband so how can she control our country," she said.

Many younger voters are reaching across generational lines to influence older women.

Macrina Cooper-White, 17, a senior at Springside School, got her mother, Pamela Cooper-White, 52, a professor at Lutheran Theological Seminary, to go with her to a meet-and-greet with Caroline Kennedy, an Obama supporter.

Cooper-White, who will turn 18 before the general election, is leaning toward Obama; her mother, originally a staunch supporter of Clinton, is now taking a closer look at Obama.

"We go back and forth in influencing each other," the daughter said at the Mount Airy event.

With a national front-runner yet to emerge in the Democratic race, many women continue to shift their allegiances.

Before hearing former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stump for Clinton at Bryn Mawr College, Sophia Papavizas, 18, a freshman from Arlington, Va., said she was feeling "a change of heart." She voted for Obama in her home-state primary in February, but might switch to Clinton.

Being a student at a women's college has made her think "maybe I want to vote for a woman," Papavizas said.

State Sen. LeAnna M. Washington, a Democrat from the Fourth District, which extends from Mount Airy to Jenkintown, used to feel a similar tug to support Clinton as the first female candidate.

Washington, 62, remembers attending a political event years ago and whispering into the then-first lady's ear, "You should run for president!"

"I was holding her hand," Washington said. "I thought: Why not Hillary? She's so smart."

She even pledged in writing to support the Clinton campaign.

But Washington, who is African American, said she was put off when Bill Clinton dismissed Obama's victory in South Carolina by saying even Jesse Jackson had won the state in his failed 1988 presidential bid.

She switched to Obama in February.

The degree of vote switching, coupled with the number of undecided voters, is unusually high in this primary and opens up possibilities for both campaigns, said Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway, the pollsters who conducted Lifetime Networks' poll of women voters this month.

"This cycle is so different," Conway said. "They're undecided not because they're not paying attention - but because they are paying attention."

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Contact staff writer Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or